Online Course Quality: What do Nontraditional Students Value?


Emily Hixon, Ph.D
Purdue University Northwest

Casimir Barczyk, PhD
Purdue University Northwest

Penny Ralston-Berg, M.S.
Penn State World Campus

Janet Buckenmeyer, Ph.D
Armstrong State University


This study analyzes nontraditional students’ perceptions of online course quality. Students were categorized into three groups: traditional, moderately nontraditional, and highly nontraditional. A survey instrument designed to assess online course quality and other demographic characteristics was administered electronically. Course quality was measured using the rubric associated with the eight Quality Matters (2008-2010) standards. A total of 3,160 students enrolled in at least one online for-credit course from 31 colleges and universities across the U.S. participated in this study. Based on the results of a series of ANOVAs, it was found that both traditional and nontraditional students rated Standard 3 on Assessment and Measurement as highest among the eight standards. No significant differences between student groups were found. In addition, there were no significant differences between groups for Standard 8 on Accessibility. It was also found that Standard 1on Course Overview and Introduction was rated higher by nontraditional students as compared to traditional students. The same was noted for Standard 6 on Course Technology, where nontraditional students rated this item higher than their traditional counterparts. Similar patterns of higher ratings by nontraditional students were found for Learning Objectives, Resources and Materials, Learner Engagement, and Learner Support, Standards 2, 4, 5, and 7, respectively. Nontraditional, as contrasted with traditional, students have different perceptions of online course quality. Because nontraditional students have multiple responsibilities, they need their online courses to be well designed, consistently presented, easily navigable, and appropriately aligned.

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